Taxpayers in Burnley could be counting the cost after it emerged a further £650,000 will be needed to complete the controversial town centre redevelopment.
The need for additional funds comes just one year after an extra £300,000 was pumped into a regeneration scheme originally budgeted at £3m.
Burnley Council is now being asked to split the supplementary sum with Lancashire County Council but furious council leader Mark Townsend is calling for an immediate investigation over the work, which is being carried out by the county’s highways team.
He has branded the county council “financially incompetent” and believes it is unfair that Burnley should now be made to pay for what he believes is shambolic mismanagement.
“Burnley residents are being asked to pay the price for LCC financial incompetence,” said Coun. Townsend. “The report lists many aspects of this LCC managed project as over budget. What started as a £3m. project is now £3.95m. and the Burnley Council additional contribution being asked for equates to 6% on Council Tax bills.
“Allowing a 30% cost over-run on the original budget is incompetence and an investigation is needed to get to the bottom of how it happened, when this was first known about at LCC and why Burnley Council were not informed before it was to late to do anything about it.”
In the report set to go before Lancashire County Council’s Cabinet on Thursday, a number of reasons for the increase in cost are listed.
These include changes to the scope and design of the works from the original concept, unforeseen ground conditions requiring additional preparation works, additional works to the existing drainage system, additional service ducts for street lighting infrastructure, material cost increases, works being more complex than anticipated, temporary works to accommodate businesses and additional works required by utility companies.
Work on the scheme, which includes new paving and seats, trees, planters and other features in Curzon Street and St James’s Street, is due to be completed in spring 2018.
However, other Burnley projects could now face the chop in order to cover the shortfall and Coun. Townsend is incensed that these problems were not highlighted earlier.
“What makes it worse is that LCC told Burnley Council at four project meetings throughout 2016 that the finances were on track until dropping the bombshell that in fact the total opposite was the truth of the matter.
“Burnley Council are being asked to choose between compromising on the quality of the scheme or come up with the money. Other important Burnley projects will have to be scaled back or even cancelled to pay for LCC’s mismanagement of the project.
“It is disgraceful that LCC are not willing to negotiate a fair allocation of the costs based on where the fault lies for this shambles.
“They have so far refused to negotiate and the LCC leader has refused to meet me to discuss saying, ‘it would not serve any useful purpose’.
“The LCC cabinet report provides no assurances that this will be the last request for additional funding or that lessons have been learned. LCC need to be fair and transparent if shattered confidence is to be rebuilt on their ability to manage this and future projects.
“I am calling on all Burnley County Councillors to join me in doing all they can to get LCC to revise this unfair proposal.”
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: "The forecast cost of the scheme has increased for a number of reasons, most notably due to changes to the scope and design of the works from the original concept, extra work being needed due to unexpectedly difficult ground conditions and issues which were identified as the scheme progressed, and increases in the cost of materials.
"We have discussed options to contain the overall cost of the scheme, however Burnley Borough Council's preferred option is to deliver the scheme as currently planned.
"We recognise the importance of this once-in-a-generation investment to the continued viability of Burnley town centre, and the county council's cabinet is being asked to consider a further £325,000 contribution subject to an equal contribution being made by Burnley Borough Council."